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Tamil Internet 2002
San Francisco, USA, 27 - 29 September 2002
"Bridging the Digital Divide"


Papers Presented at Conference
Official Site at INFIIT


The international Tamil Internet 2002 Conference and Exhibition (TI2002), the fifth in the series, was held from 27-29 September 2002 in San Francisco, California, US. It was the first time that a conference in this series was convened in the US. TI2002, with the theme "Bridging the Digital Divide"  was co-organised by the International Forum for Information Technology in Tamil (INFITT) and the Center for South Asia Studies and the Chair for Tamil Studies in the University of California, Berkeley.

The offer by the American members of INFITT to host this event was first made at the end of TI2001, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in August 2001. The mood and the spirit in US then were so very different from what they became just two weeks later: the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the nation to its core. Adding to the deep sorrow and gloom, the Silicon Valley, where this conference was scheduled to be held, suffered from unprecedented "dotcom" failures. Yet the US Organising Committee of TI2002 led by Mr Mani Manivannan and Professor Steve Poulos could not be deterred from their resolve to hold the event as scheduled. It is a testimony to the Tamil Americans' can-do spirit.


The primary purposes of TI conferences are threefold: To provide a platform for exchange of views and ideas through the Conference Hub, to help bring local communities together and create awareness of Tamil Information Technology's benefits to the public through the Community Hub, and to enable business growth and networking through the Exhibition Hub. The conference in California continued that tradition against all odds and achieved considerable success under the circumstances.

Conference Hub

The conference was attended by about 200 delegates from Canada, Germany, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and US. Some 50 speakers addressed a wide spectrum of issues as in the past conferences, some ongoing and some new ones. They focused on technology, content, community and business developments. They included Linux operating system in Tamil, E-Government, teaching of Tamil through IT, Tamil Unicode interfaces and implementation, latest developments in Tamil language based technologies such as optical character recognition (OCR) which is now ready for public use, search engines, machine translation, speech synthesis and handwriting recognition. In addition, the conference addressed opportunities for building Tamil cyber communities and business networks. The meeting also became a lively forum for interaction among Tamil IT-related scholars, technologists and end users. One of the most surprising outcomes was the revelation that quite a number of experts in their own field were not aware of the considerable inroads Tamil language has made in the world of computing.

The conference deliberations led to a number of initiatives covering a wide range of applications in Tamil:

Tamil Web Search

This project will produce a seamless interface with which a user will be able to search for web content in Tamil. While interacting with the user in Unicode, the search will also include Tamil sites in TAB and TSCII encoding. This is in line with the INFITT's policy of supporting only these two 8-bit schemes.

Ready Made Software for Tamil School Computer Labs

This project will produce a ready to use software package based on open source technologies. It will include the Tamil Linux operating system, networking software and desktop tools such as word processing, graphic creation and Internet facility. With this package Tamil schools will be able to set up computer labs, very quickly and at very low costs.

Web-Based Tamil Email

This project will produce a set of tools that will help web sites to include Tamil email services to their customers. Web administrators will be able to set up and configure these tools with their existing mail servers. For the user it will eliminate the need to configure the email environment for Tamil.

The above three projects will be developed adapting Open Source framework.

Tamil Unicode

TI2002 provided the opportunity for INFITT to meet with the top officials of the Unicode Consortium to exchange views on issues of mutual concern. Both parties agreed to have a closer liaison with each other through specific representatives. The conference papers and discussions on this subject from some of the leading experts in the field demonstrated the viability of Tamil Unicode in Internet and database applications.

Discussion Group on Collation

In view of the importance of collation in Tamil Data Processing, INFITT has decided to start a Discussion Group to examine the details.

Discussion Group on Tamil Digital Libraries Network

Another Discussion Group will be launched to explore all the methodologies to link digital libraries with Tamil collections around the world. E-commerce opportunities on Tamil books will also be explored.

Project Madurai

In terms of content development, the already well-established Project Madurai (PM) made a strategic decision during this conference to place greater emphasis on Tamil diasporic writings. Millions of Tamils have now migrated to different parts of the world and have carved out their own singular identity and aspirations, and their writings have both broadened and deepened the contours of Tamil writings. Singapore, Malaysia and Europe have been identified as target areas for the initial efforts in this new direction.

Tamil Heritage Foundation

A new e-archiving of Tamil cultural and heritage related materials was first discussed at TI2001 in Malaysia and the Malaysian Minister of Works, Dato' Seri S Samy Vellu seeded the project with a grant of US$10,000. The project had now reached a sufficiently steady state to be publicly celebrated. The Tamil Heritage Foundation (THF), led by Dr N Kannan of Germany, was officially launched at the California conference. This digital resource centre for Tamil culture and heritage has gathered a considerable amount of items of scholarly as well popular interest in the last one year alone.

Community Hub

The Community Hub was the focal point of web familiarisation and hands-on practice for everyone ranging from children to teens to adults.

International Web Competition

Prior to the conference, the US organisers of TI2002 had initiated the first ever international web page design competition in Tamil. Held over a two-month period, it attracted about 40 of submissions from 4 countries. The international competition created not only an awareness among the younger generation of Tamils that their language is "cool" but also an espirit de corps among the Tamil school communities of different countries.

Youth For Tamil IT (YFTI)

The above initiative from California had now led to an even more ambitious project that would combine language, technology and community welfare into a global effort to bridge the digital divide among the less and more fortunate.

Christened the "Youth for Tamil IT" (YFTI) project, this new initiative announced at TI2002 will bring together youth from different countries around the world to develop a Tamil language based IT program that will bring benefits to the underprivileged communities among the Tamils. An international team of youth will bring their own technical, business and linguistic abilities to create and implement this community project. YFTI will be launched within months of this conference and its first offering is expected to be implemented by the next Tamil Internet conference in 2003.

Exhibition Hub

The exhibition of Tamil software and related materials attracted a total of 2,000 visitors over three days. The economic downturn and the sombre mood throughout the IT industry affected the participation of the business community from both within America and abroad. However, for the American Tamils this was the first time that they had seen such a wide variety of Tamil-based software. The event provided a rare opportunity for them to realise how IT savvy Tamil language has become. The exhibition included many innovative software products in Tamil such as digital dictionaries, computer games, Tamil Front-End interfaces, and multimedia educational software.

US-India-INFITT Collaborative School Education Project

One significant initiative, supported by the business community in the U.S emerged from this conference. This is a collaborative scheme between the American Indian Foundation (AIF) and the Tamil Nadu Foundation (TNF) to expand the school education initiative to cover a larger number of underprivileged sections in Tamil Nadu. The suggestions that were discussed in TI2002 relating to IT and school education will be suitably incorporated in this initiative.


Since the settlement of the Tamil keyboard and the encoding issues in the last few conferences, the focus of this conference had turned more towards other technology developments as well as community development and content development issues. Much of the deliberations at the California conference was emphasising the need for connecting with community needs be they technological or content developments. Another salient theme at this conference was how could diasporic Tamils benefit from Tamil IT. In an increasingly English dominated and globalized world, the role of Tamil and Tamil IT seemed at odds to many of the younger generation participants. However, at the end of the three-day event, there was much greater confidence that the power of the Tamil IT can be put to effective use for the propagation and preservation of Tamil culture and heritage and for the betterment of the Tamil community worldwide.

Recommendations on INFITT

INFITT had been registered officially earlier this year in California, USA and it had launched a membership drive, as agreed at TI2001. Due to the very short time available to recruit sufficient membership, the Constituent Assembly held on the last day of TI2002 (29 September 2002) concluded that elections be held only when the membership reaches three times the number of the General Council members, i.e. about 150 members in total, but with a reasonable geographic spread. The current The Executive Committee was asked to carry on its responsibilities until the elections, which are expected to be held in the next three months.

It was agreed that the INFITT would also explore opportunities to link with other international organisations in addition to MINC and Unicode Consortium whose functions are compatible with the objectives of INFITT.

Next Tamil Internet Conference

The Director of the Tamil Virtual University in Tamil Nadu had conveyed an offer by the Tamil Nadu government to host Tamil Internet 2003. The Executive Committee (EC) of INFITT decided to accept this offer with gratitude. The INFITT Secretariat was tasked, as usual, to coordinate the organisation of the conference with the assistance of the Tamil Internet Steering Committee (TISC) of Tamil Nadu, which is an affiliate of INFITT.

In view of the long delays experienced in getting started with both TI2001 and TI2002, which subjected the conferences to tremendous pressures towards the end, the EC had decided to begin the preparations for the next conference (TI2003) immediately after the conclusion of TI2002.

To that end, EC appointed Dr M Anandakrishnan as the Chair of the International Organising Committee (IOC) and Dr K Kalyanasundaram as the Chair of the Conference Programme Committee (CPC) to start the planning for TI2003. The EC would also request the Chair of TISC, Tamil Nadu to be the Chair of the Tamil Nadu Organising Committee (TNOC) and Deputy Chair of the IOC. Another Tamil Nadu representative would be requested to be the Deputy Chair of CPC. Other members would be announced within a month.


The California conference concluded successfully and on a high note with many new initiatives to bridge the digital divide, which was the theme of the conference. INFITT recorded its deep gratitude to the US Organising Committee under the leadership of Mani M Manivannan for its members' unstinting support for this conference. INFITT also thanked Prof Steve Poulos of the Center for South Asia Studies and Prof George Hart, Chair for Tamil Studies in the University of California, Berkeley. INFITT owes a debt to all the sponsors, the media, volunteers and each and every one who made this conference possible and fruitful.

Mani M. Manivannan,
Chair, Tamil Internet 2002



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